China military targets top universities to access tech

October 30, 2018

About 300 Chinese military scholars have been sent to Australia — with at least 17 trying to obscure their links to the People’s Liberation Army — as part of an overt push by Beijing to gain access to the latest advanced Western technologies, a new report says.

The Conservative Party has been calling out Chinese Communist Party Government influence in Australia for months and last month had its request for a royal commission into that influence rejected by the Morrison government.

The Australian reports, a study by Alex Joske at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute alleging that the PLA sends personnel to universities in member countries of the Five Eyes security ­alliance — Australia, the US, Britain, Canada and New ­Zealand — to increase the military’s knowledge of advanced ­technologies.

“Over the past decade, Australia has been engaged in the highest level of this collaboration among the Five Eyes countries per capita, at six times the level in the US,” Mr Joske says.

The 300 figure is an estimate based on peer-reviewed articles by more than 2500 Chinese military scientists sent abroad as students or visiting scholars in the past decade.

The findings come amid a fight between universities and the Defence Department over a proposal giving Defence vast search-and-enter powers, as well as scrutiny over foreign passport holders conducting research in Australia.

In a hearing last week, Defence officials warned that they needed the powers as some technologies being worked on in Australia might have a dual civilian and military use, including in weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Joske said China was not shy about explaining its strategy and that the PLA used the phrase “picking flowers in foreign lands to make honey in China” to explain how it leveraged overseas expertise to better its technology.

“They are quite clear that they are engaging in this research collaboration with the intention of improving their military technology,” he told The Australian.

The report also claims that of all the universities in the Five Eyes nations, the University of NSW published the most peer-reviewed literature in collaboration with PLA scientists. It found that, in 2015, UNSW hosted a mobile mapping technology conference attended by 40 Chinese military scientists. About 30 of the 40 scientists openly stated they were from China’s National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) or a Chinese arms manufacturer. The report says nine claimed to be from the Zhengzhou Institute of Surveying and Mapping. The report found that this institute no longer existed and was now the PLA Information Engineering University, a military academy.

The report found an associate professor at a PLA academy, Guo Jianfeng, visited Curtin University for a year in 2014. Instead of stating he was from the academy, he is listed as being from the Zhengzhou Surveying Institute. Curtin University declined to comment.

Among the top 10 universities outside China for PLA collaboration, UNSW was No 2 and ­Australian National University was No 8.

Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University was No 1.

Universities currently have to comply with “defence trade controls” which govern their interaction with foreign universities and are used to stop technology being exported for purposes contrary to Australia’s national interests.

Senator Bernardi has told 3AW's Steve Price there are many reasons he called for a royal commission into Chinese influence in Australia.

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